A few days ago the devil children over at SEOBlackHat.com notified me of a new kind of Google-dance. Normally the #1 search engine targets the latest exploits when it reorganizes its index, causing webmasters to sweat and wait to see if their pages will rise or fall in the new order. This time Google took a far larger step – removing explicit sexual content from listings en masse.
The arguments for doing it in cases are strong. Most people typing ‘Sex’ into Google probably don’t want porn and Google’s in the business of giving us what we want. Conversely, though, people typing ‘blowjob’ into Google probably do want porn and Google’s serving no-one by ’sanitizing’ our smutty searches.
The effects of Google’s pogrom have been dramatic. My own website – TGP.com – moved from being the #1 result for the search term ‘TGP’ to being completely absent over the weekend and is now – curiously – back atop the results. Perhaps as my domain is my search term Google are wary of leaving FUBAR.com out of a list of to-hits for FUBAR. Perhaps they’ve worked out that no-one searches for TGP who isn’t trying to find hotdog and donut shots. Whatever the reason larger TGP’s than mine are still missing from the first page and that has to hurt.
Overall search results on sex terms are all far less porn dominated than they were a week ago while Google ads remained tied to search terms as they always were. A cynic might suggest Google was trying to make pornographers pay for decent search placement rather than getting it in return for relevancy like the rest of the universe. Do I look that cynical?
Don’t be evil? Jury’s still out…
December 26 update
I’m not a tin-foil-hat sort of guy, but I’ll admit to entertaining any idea long enough to work out if it has any merit. Buckle-up while I lay out an idea which might be considered “fucking silly.”
Anyone who reads Boing Boing knows Xeni Jardin is their resident ’sexpert’ and that she reads Violet Blue. Thus it wasn’t much of a surprise when Violet’s recent post on Google’s filtering of adult search results made it to the big B. What’s really interesting is Google’s apparent response to Xeni’s post (tin-foil hats on).
When I commented on the November 2006 purge, Google’s search results returned to normal the day after I’d posted, prompting some people to accuse me of being misguided. They said because Google is constantly tweaking, it’s easy to notice mistakes and falsely assume they’re conscious changes, a situation made hard to clarify by an obfuscating paranoia about secrecy which Google is convinced is necessary to its business.
Accepting their point it was hard to dismiss the congruence of a solution to a problem which came as soon as I mentioned it online, but lasted long enough for SEO Black Hat to find (he was #1 on this – kudos. I was #2), explore and mention to me. Maybe some of my friends at Google had passed on a URL? Impossible to say but impossible to dismiss.
Then the December purge took effect, almost exactly a month after the November purge (connection?), and remained in place long enough for Tony Comstock and Violet Blue to write up, Boing Boing to reference, and me to check. Then, the day after Boing Boing published, everything returned to normal once again.
What’s going on?
Are Google are running some sort of protocol each month that specifically targets adult sites? Either as a response to enormous amounts of adult industry spam, or at the request of government screening for illegal material (one tin-foil hat might not be enough for this).
Or is Google trying to stack the odds against finding sexual material, by removing adult sites from prominent positions, but backing off whenever anyone screams loud enough?
The curious timing of Google’s ‘mistakes’ and their apparent responses to bloggers who comment about them is looking less and less coincidental. As to why they only seem to respond to SugarBank and Boing Boing you could argue there’s no connection and it’s just coincidence that our screams have seemed to fix things, or that Boing Boing’s read by everyone who can spell RSS and that SugarBank’s read by enough of my Googlestani friends to make this blog disproportionately visible to those guys (this post might have something to do with it too).
Until we know more I’ll continue to explore, and be less surprised at a similar ‘glitch’ at the end of January. In the interim the most obvious lessons are:
- Don’t build your entire marketing campaign around satisfying Google.
- If you find yourself knocked out of search results for no reason – blog about it.
- Don’t panic. Google will be #2 at some point, it’s inevitable. People are working on it pretty hard.
Noticed any Google weirdness? I’m officially interested…